Residence life expands wellness housing options

The Office of Residence Life added a new special interest housing option on campus for the 2016-17 academic year in the form of a Wellness Community in Walker Hall.

Wellness Communities, according Jen Foxman, assistant dean of students and director of residence life, are communities in which the members focus on general healthy living.

This means students within the community work to cook together, participate in wellness activities such as meditation and keep the space entirely drug and alcohol free.   

Part of our goal is to get people to think about how to take care of themselves and other people.

— Jacquie Kondrot

“Basically, it’s students who are looking for programing that would surround areas of wellness,” Foxman said.

While the communities do work to be entirely alcohol free, Foxman said it is largely up to the community members themselves to ensure the space remains this way.

“We have not gone to the extent of doing conduct [reports] on people. It’s really a community monitoring kind of thing,”  Foxman said.

Foxman said over the last several years, the college has offered wellness communities to students in several residence halls on campus. She said in past years they have also offered a wellness house as a special-interest house.

According to Foxman, the wellness house was not an option this year simply because residence life has struggled to fill it in the past.

“Like any special-interest community,  interest ebbs and flows,” Foxman said.

In addition to the transition of Walker Hall to a Wellness Community for the 2016-17 year, residence life also made Edwards Hall an all first-year wellness living option to expand wellness options on campus.

Foxman said when first-year students were filling out their housing preference forms it was made clear that Edwards would be a Wellness Community.

“We promoted it as a wellness dorm,” Foxman said.

When looking through the choices the incoming class was making in terms of where it wanted to live on campus, Foxman said she saw a lot of interest in the colleges wellness options.

“I noticed a lot of the first-year forms this year, maybe more than usual even, of people looking to live in, if not a substance-free environment, at least one that was respectful of people who chose to live a substance-free life,” Foxman said.

Jacquie Kondrot, associate dean of students, said she used to head a Wellness Committee at Allegheny, which she is working to bring back this year.  She said in recent years she has been asked to fill other roles at the college, which have prevented her from doing the work.

Kondrot said the Wellness Communities are designed to promote general well-being, and she hopes students will take that goal to heart.

“I hope they will take the experience seriously,” she said. “Part of our goal is to get people to think about how to take care of themselves and other people.”

Kondrot said the communities have brought different programs to the college in the past. She said this has included bringing in speakers on topics such as meditation and alcohol’s  effects on the body.

“I think the list is inexhaustible of all the fun things we can do,” Kondrot said.

While these are the types of programs the communities have chosen to do in the past, Kondrot said she hopes the students will take the project and make it their own.

“I also appreciate student input on what catches people’s eye,” she said.

Melissa Mattwig, ’17, the community advisor for Edwards Hall, said she and her staff have seen residents take to the wellness living environment and make it their own.

“We put on some events, but they have started to put on their own stuff,” Mattwig said.

While the building, like all Wellness Communities, is meant to be substance-free, Mattwig said the building tries to handle any incidents of students using substances as a community.

“It’s kind of an inevitable fact of being a first-year, but it is about how we can help when it does happen,” Mattwig said.

While the Wellness Committee will work closely with the Wellness Communities after its reinstatement, Kondrot said it will also work to promote wellness in all aspects of campus life.

“The whole ‘Be That Gator’ campaign came out of the Wellness Committee a few years ago,” Kondrot said.

This year, Kondrot said she hopes the committee can work to renew the college’s pedestrian safety campaign.

Kondrot said she feels what form the Wellness Communities take will depend greatly on the success of this year. Foxman said it will depend a lot on next year’s sophomores.

Foxman said she hopes interest will remain high and they may be able to bring back the Wellness House at some point.

“We would really like to see that come back,” Foxman said.

Mattwig said several of her residents have already expressed a desire to continue in wellness housing next year, but she said it is still early in the semester to be sure how many actually will chose to do so.